cover image The Names Upon the Harp: Irish Myths and Legends

The Names Upon the Harp: Irish Myths and Legends

Marie Heaney. Arthur A. Levine Books, $19.95 (96pp) ISBN 978-0-590-68052-3

Heaney delves into the roots of Irish lore for her collection of eight tales. Conflict, murder and magic abound as kings and chieftains fight one another over beautiful women or to win honor.The author, the wife of Seamus Heaney, divides the volume into the three accepted cycles of early Irish literature (the mythological, Ulster and Finn cycles), providing a brief explanation of the period as well as tales representative of each. Readers meet a variety of Ireland's ancient heroes and villains as they conquer lands and such peoples as the Tuatha De Danaan, who later became known as the Faery or Little Folk that live under the earth in the Land of Youth. Heaney includes all the necessary elements--drama, intrigue, ambition, wizardry--but something is amiss when she strings them together. The narrative becomes mired in copious, often confusing detail (e.g., a brief mention of the character Morann in ""The Birth of Cuchulainn"" goes unexplained) and difficult-to-pronounce names (a key is provided at book's end). ""The Children of Lir,"" for instance, gets bogged down in logistics and is not as musical as Malachy Doyle's version in his recent Tales from Old Ireland; the writing overall lacks spark and a smooth storytelling pace. Young readers will likely find this work more tough-going than tantalizing. Lynch (The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey) serves up a theatrical pastiche of watercolor-and-gouache, capturing kings, maidens, druids and cherubic babies in his striking portraits and creating sweeping scenes of the harsh and rugged Irish landscape (and seascape) of yore. All ages. (Nov.)